NOSTALGIA: The Chataway years: A look at times gone by

A BARNSTORMING victory marked the start of a former MP’s Chichester tenure.

Christopher Chataway, who died on January 19, aged 82, as previously reported in the Observer, claimed the highest Conservative majority in the country when he won his seat in a by-election in 1969.

“We are happy and delighted with the result,” he said afterwards. “It is better than we thought it would be.”

The new MP had served in a previous Conservative government, but had been the MP for North Lewisham.

Not long after he won his seat, an Observer reporter went to see him and his family to find out a bit more about the new face of Chichester in Westminster.

Reporter Alan Fitzpatrick wrote of his trip to see Mr Chataway and his family at their temporary home in Stansted Park, near Rowlands Castle.

When he met the new MP, he found him nursing a set of stiff joints and sore muscles.

“‘Trying for the world record again, at three miles and 5,000m?’ I asked him,” wrote Mr Fitzpatrick.

Mr Chataway replied:

“Not now – at my time of life. That was way back. I am still pretty fit, but time makes changes, and there has been a lot of time since the Olympic Games at Helsinki in 1952 and Melbourne in 1956.

“I am stiff now because I rashly got involved in the Young Conservatives’ walk from Leatherhead to Brighton, starting at midnight and ending,

I had had enough. Right at this moment, Helsinki and Melbourne seem farther away than ever.”

His wife Anna was also part of the interview, along with their children – eight-year-old Mark and six-year-old Joanna, and their dog Yogi.

Mr Chataway, who had just taken his seat in the House of Commons, said he was not expecting to be treated as a ‘new boy’.

“Many members will not even be aware I have been away for three years,” he said.

Having to move down to the Chichester area meant he and the family were still getting used to the countryside. All the family were out as often as possible on long walks in the park and the surrounding woodland.

Mr Fitzpatrick finished his article: “Soon the family will move into their new home, a pair of 17th-century cottages at Lordington, which have been merged together and modernised, and on which work is almost finished.

“The Chataways have been among us only since the beginning of the year, but already they have an air of permanence about them, and well they may, since they seem set to be here a long time, and their supporters in the Chichester division are hoping they have a future prime minister to represent them in the mother of parliaments.”

Not long after his by-election victory, a further election was contested and won by him in 1970 – and he took his place as minister of posts and telecommunications in the newly-formed government.

“I have been very much involved with broadcasting and particularly with the BBC and ITV,” he told the Observer immediately after his second victory.

According to the Observer, he retained his seat with a 25,546 majority, which the paper described as ‘one of the country’s safest Conservative seats’.

Despite retaining his seat in the February election of 1974, his majority was slashed and he later resigned, not contesting the election of October that year.

A stranger to Chichester, Mr Chataway and his family moved to the area, which became their home from 1969.

It was a time when colour was just becoming a feature in newspapers and front-page photographs on the Observer tended to be selected for their striking colours, rather than perhaps their newsworthy value.

At one point the paper featured a picture of the cathedral, carrying the caption: “Chichester Cathedral must be one of the most photographed buildings in the area. But we make no apology for printing yet another picture – this time in full colour and taken from an unusual angle – in which delicate and fragrant spring blossom is contrasted against the fine architecture and weathered old stonework.”

This picture appeared on June 6, 1969, just days before Mr Chataway took his seat in parliament.

Weeks before, in the same edition that reported the new MP’s victory, the front-page picture was devoted to the new mayor George Watson, who said: “My theme will be our people,” after the mayor-making ceremony.

“It has always been my firm belief that people must take priority over the material things in life,” he said.

The late 1960s were an important time for Chichester. In early 1969, the government had completed a report entitled Chichester – a study in conservation.

Among its recommendations were financial inducements to owners of old buildings for carrying out repairs, new legislation for old properties, conservation trusts to enable owners and occupiers to be more closely involved and a phased conservation programme.

Despite being new to the area, Mr Chataway soon settled in and represented the country at a national level for the next five years.